SAN JOSE -- California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Friday that legislators "never intended to undermine'' the state's open-records act when they passed a last-minute budget bill that would have forced local governments to pay the costs of complying with the law.

After this week's political firestorm, Steinberg told the San Jose Mercury News' editorial board he was surprised by the outrage sparked by last week's budget "trailer bill" that would have cut $20 million in funding to reimburse cities, counties and other public agencies for costs to comply with the Public Records Act.

The bill triggered such a fusillade of criticism from the media and good-government advocates that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders backed away from a move that would have made the government-transparency law essentially optional.

"We didn't see the outcry'' coming, Steinberg said. "Now (that we've heard) from the people, we will now do the right thing. ... You have to have humility in this business."

But Steinberg insisted that legislators didn't want to weaken the act and had always expected local government to pick up the tab for providing documents and other records to citizens and the media. He pointed to a provision in the bill that would have required city councils and boards of supervisors to hold public meetings if they decided they were "not going to assist the public" with record requests.


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Steinberg acknowledged that the controversy tarnished a budget process that Brown and most legislators viewed as successful and included a revamping of school funding, new middle-class college scholarships, the restoration of dental services for the poor and new mental health services.

He vowed to try to get the two-thirds majority in the Legislature needed to put a constitutional amendment on next June's ballot that would require local governments to pick up the tab for meeting the requirements of the public records law, signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968.

As a result of the Gann Initiative passed by Californian voters in 1979, any time the Legislature or any state agency mandates a new program increasing costs for local governments, the state must reimburse localities.

Steinberg, who will be forced out of the Legislature by term limits in 18 months, said this week he is considering running for Sacramento mayor in 2016.

Contact Ken McLaughlin at 408-920-5552. Follow him at Twitter.com/kmclaughSJMerc.